Murder case dismissals pile up in Marion County

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Before Tuesday night, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry’s 2015 murder conviction batting average was .789.

Then, Joseph Bell was found not guilty of the May 2015 killing of Lamar Comer on Indianapolis’ west side.

“Well, it was a straight self-defense case,” said attorney John Tompkins. “I wouldn’t say he overcharged. I would say he should not have charged murder in this case.”

Bell’s acquittal lowered Curry’s murder case success rate to .750 for the year at a time when IMPD homicide detectives are struggling to solve seven out of ten murder cases that land on their desks.

“This year…we are 15 of 19 convictions in jury trials on murder,” said Curry, before counting the Bell case. “17 of 19 if you include situations where there was a not guilty on the murder but a conviction on the lesser included.”

And that doesn’t include the murder cases filed by the prosecutor but later dismissed to hopefully be resurrected upon better evidence at a future date.

“In most instances our judgment call is, ‘Lets dismiss it knowing that we’re going to lose then have no ability to ever retry this person, or, dismiss it, do further work on the case and if new evidence develops, refile it,’” said Curry, who added that four dismissed cases have been revived to result in two convictions and two defendants still facing charges.

In the past two weeks, cases against three defendants charged with a total of five murders have been dismissed.

Deandre Kendrick was charged with an eastside triple slaying in 2014, but those charges were dismissed.

“But he’d already been convicted of murder and was doing a 65-year sentence on the murder,” said Curry, who added the case against Kendrick’s alleged partner is still pending.

Charges against Daniel Roseboro and Ronnie Massengale, for separate murders on opposite ends of 38th Street, were dropped when witnesses disappeared.

Brandon Robinson and Antonio Mitz no longer face trial for a cold case killing from 2009 because an informant proved unreliable.

That’s what happened in one of the pending murder investigations involving Richard Grundy, leader of the notorious Grundy Crew which terrorized the northside for two years and may have been complicit in two dozen unsolved killings.

An informant tying Grundy to a pair of slayings lied about her identity, though the gang leader still faces another outstanding murder charge.

Jerran Bradley, Dino Thompson, Jameel Muhammad, Antonio Johnson, just a handful of suspects accused of murder who have seen their cases dropped or have accepted pleas to lesser charges.

“Most times it is issues with the witness,” said Curry.  “We’re obviously trying to make the best of what frequently becomes a bad situation."

“With a murder there is no statute of limitations so we could always refile it,” said Curry, “so perhaps there is something that will come out of the other pending matters that then will bolster the case that had been dismissed and we can obviously look at refiling those down the road if we have the basis of doing so.”

The attorney who successfully argued self-defense for his client this week does not fault Curry’s track record and instead praises the prosecutor’s judgment in dismissing charges in weak cases.

“It speaks well actually for the prosecutor function in this county,” said Tompkins, “because they’re not making those people go to trial, they’re screening effectively, they’re looking at the case, they’re assessing the case with an open mind.

“What would be more distressing is ten not guiltys instead of ten drops.”

Tompkins instead blames the training and investigations conducted by police.

“Judges do not have to find a great deal to say, ‘There is enough for probable cause here.’ It’s a very low bar, way below beyond a reasonable doubt. So you have to ask, ‘How are the police thinking that that is enough?’ and I think its directly related to poor training. Not the police officers. The police officers are working hard, but the tools that they are being given are fifty years old, they’re way behind the rest of the world in crime solving and there haven’t been the appropriate amount of resources dedicated to updating the training and methods that our police can use and its being exposed.

“These police need to be better trained, there needs to be more resources into their training so they get it right the first time, because the risk with saying, ‘We’ve arrested this guy,’ the prosecutor looks at it and says, ‘You haven’t given us enough to prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt, we have to release him,’ is now he knows and while it may be a wise decision and there is no statute of limitations on murder, having to release a guy once he’s on notice that he’s being investigated is a very dangerous situation to put the public in.”

In a statement, Curry’s office said, “There is no indication at this point that this year’s dismissal rate will be a significant deviation from last year,” when 22 cases were dismissed and 106 were resolved through guilty or not guilty determinations.

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